Amerisource Bergen: profile of local $72B company

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. - September 20, 2010 Comcast, Aramark, The Mellon Bank Center may be among the area's biggest buildings but not among them is the area's biggest business.

Tucked inside an unassuming office, in a building nestled in the woods of Valley Forge sits an unassuming man. But to make assumptions about David Yost would be a big mistake. As CEO of Amerisource Bergen, he is at the helm of what Fortune Magazine ranks as the number one company in Greater Philadelphia overall on its famed Fortune 500 list. But few in Philadelphia have heard its name.

"They usually say, what's that? What do you do? And I tell them we distribute pharmaceuticals," Yost explained.

That description is a very simple representation. Along with 2 smaller competitors, Amerisource Bergen dominates the drug market. It distributed nearly 90-percent of all prescriptions dispensed in the United States. The company buys from drug manufacturers and then sells to doctors, hospitals and pharmacies.

The company's revenue, $72-billion a year and $300-million every day, is earned through what it calls the most efficient distribution model in the country.

The network is set up of heavily guarded warehouses in which all the locations are kept a close secret. Our cameras weren't allowed inside but the company did supply us with a DVD that shows rows of drugs getting ready to be shipped to tens of millions of Americans.

"They give me all my prescription medications, all my over the counter medications, my shampoo, my haircare, eyes, cough, cold."

Genevieve Levans is the owner of Falls Pharmacy in East Falls. It's one of 3700 Good Neighbor Pharmacies in the country, all of which are independently owned but operated with the help of Amerisource Bergen, making it one the company's biggest business segments.

Pharmacists, most of whom have little business training, get all the help they need.

"They will actually come out once a month, go through the product, see what's selling, what's not selling. If there's something new on the market that I need to have they rearrange it and they put it there for me," said Levans.

Amerisource's success stands in stark contrast to the company's quiet image a philosophy cemented the day it marked its merger on September 11, 2001. That day executives were set to have a meeting at the New York Stock Exchange then ring the opening bell.

"We were in the elevators when the first plane hit, and when the second plane hit, we were all around the table and it was like an earthquake," recalled Yost.

The Amerisource Bergen flag flew for days in Lower Manhattan, until the exchange finally reopened. Now that flag, still dusty with debris hangs in the otherwise plain lobby. A reminder, executives say, that how a company operates matters far more than what it looks like.

Amerisource Bergen not only values is low profile it works to keep it that way. They wouldn't tell us the location of a single one of its 27 distribution centers, mostly because of what's inside. Still, there's no hiding its size or impact on the local economy, and this business is getting bigger by the day.

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